„Bitter Pills“

Length: 60 minutes (ARTE, 26 April 2005, 9:45 p.m.)
Hans S. wasn’t able to sleep anymore without pills. He was an executive employee, but for more than 17 years no one noticed his addiction until everything came to a head: First he lost his job, then his driver’s licence, and in the end he was committed to a psychiatric clinic for withdrawal. His doctor, the one who had regularly prescribed Rohypnol, should have known the sleeping pills are addictive. Once Hans S. had finally overcome his addiction, he sued his doctor before the court of arbitration that represents North German medical associations. And won. For the first time in a case like this, the patient was awarded damages and medical malpractice was established as the cause. Also known as the “silent addiction” because it doesn’t make itself apparent, nonetheless about the same number of people are addicted to sleeping pills and tranquilizers as are addicted to alcohol: There are over a million pill addicts in Germany, as many as 3 million in France. The worst sleep of all is relegated to housewives: As far back as 1967, the Rolling Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper”: pills from the benzodiazepine family of drugs. Against its own better judgment, the pharmaceutical industry kept quiet about the dangers of addiction involved here right up into the 1980s – the same way it had done before in playing down the damage done to embryos by another sleeping pill, thalidomide, and the same way the toxicity of barbiturates was benched. These early sedatives became a frequent favourite for suicides. Their use has been prohibited more and more since the 1960s. In Europe, nowadays their use is limited solely to Switzerland: for assisted dying, which is legal there. Modern-day sedatives are fatal only when taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Even so, junkies quickly found out that the high lasts that much longer when the pills are mixed with heroin. And criminals discovered that sedatives can be used effectively as knockout drops or date-rape drugs. When a case comes to court, abuse can be verified only with difficulty because the body quickly breaks down the active substances.

Video (approx. 10 min.(German))

Screenplay and Director: Valentin Thurn
Camera: Boris Fromageot
Sound: Thomas Hirschmann
Editor: Katja Tornow
Executive Producer: Olaf Grunert

A production by BITCOM International Rainer Regensburger, commissioned by ZDF in co-operation with ARTE

Programminfo ARTE